Critical Analysis Essay of Walker’s “Everyday Use”
Everyday Use is regarded as one of Alice Walker’s most notable works. First published in 1973, the story was printed as part of the author collection of short story, In Love and Trouble. The story centers on the life of the narrator, “Mama”, an African American mother living with one of her daughters, Maggie. She narrates her excitement as she waits for the arrival of her successful daughter Dee. But upon her arrival, Mama soon realizes that the daughter she imagined in her head was different from the ones coming home as the new Dee goes back and forth on rejecting her true heritage. Within the narrative, the author presented important themes that were central to the development of the story. This includes the concept of heritage and concept of differences (Lewis 10).
Heritage is one of the most prominent themes of the story. And this theme is best exemplified by the character of Dee. Growing up as an African American woman, Dee felt that her history was full of oppression. This sense of being oppressed eventually caused her to adapt and construct a new heritage. She takes on a new name and dresses herself with different clothes and accessories – all in an attempt to create a new identity. Her anger and desire to reject her heritage, were also the same reason why she failed to make her new legacy meaningless. What she saw was only a small perspective of “oppression” and by rejecting her true roots, her new identity becomes more empty and full of pretentions.
The concept of heritage is further explained by the author through the quilt. In the story, Dee looks for the quilt which was sewn by her relatives since the Civil War. Mama however, tells Dee that she promised the quilt to Maggie, to which Dee argued that her sister is not smart enough to appreciate and preserve it. Mama on the other hand defended Maggie by saying that she does know how to preserve and appreciate the quilt by designating it for everyday use. The quilt in this story represents heritage which Dee tries so hard to grasps but fails to do so. The very fact that she tries to change her name which is derived from her aunt and grandmother’s reinforces the idea that she is disconnected with her true roots and heritage. Maggie on the other hand, lives by this heritage every single day of her life, making her as the more suitable owner of the quilt (Bloom 162).
Another clear theme in this story is the concept of differences. Throughout the story, the author made use of opposing elements in order to relate an important message. Dee and Maggie for example are two very different characters. Maggie is someone who is awkward and uneducated. In one of the passages, Mama describes her walk as something similar to a lame animal:”Have you ever seen a lame animal, perhaps a dog run over by some careless person rich enough to own a care, sidle up to someone who is ignorant enough to be kind to him? This is the way my Maggie walks… She knows she is not bright” (Walker 45). Alternately, Dee is the very opposite of Maggie. She is sophisticated and well educated. But despite of this, Mama notes that “she washed us in a river of make believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn’t necessarily need to know” (Walker 56). It is in here that one can see the differences that the author is trying to convey.
Based on the points provided, it can be concluded that the author made use of important themes in this story. This includes the concept of heritage and differences. These two themese were best exemplified by the main characters of the story. Heritage for example, is expressed in the character of Dee; while the concept of differences are exhibited by Dee and Maggie.
Bloom, H. Alice Walker. NY: Infobase Publishing, 2009
Lewis, N. The concept of heritage in Walker’s Everyday Use. NY: Grin Verlag, 2002
Walker, A. Everyday Use. NY: Infobase Publishing, 2009